I grew up in a rather rural part of the Northeast with severe winters, white Christmases, and Halloweens cold enough that we almost always had to wear a costume that could be worn with a coat over it. We had a large home that my parents were restoring, in an area where most of the rural homes had been built between 1770 and 1850. My parents had a lot of interesting friends, some of whom lived locally and others who visited us from New York, or sometimes even from Europe.
One couple of my parent's friends lived only about a mile from us. The husband worked, and they lived in Manhattan much of the time, and they came out to their home near us, a couple of weekends a month. At first, they had another neighbor watching their home while they were in the city, but eventually when the original neighbor returned to work full-time, as a lot of women in that era did, my mother agreed to keep an eye on their home. Later, the arrangement evolved. In exchange for excellent money, at the time, my mother agreed to change the sheets there, and keep the place vacuumed and cleaned, so that when they did arrive, they could simply relax rather than have another house to maintain. My mother actually enjoyed going there once a week, making a cup of tea while watching their kitchen television, while working at her own pace in someone else's home. When she was finished, she would pick up the check they always left in the same place for her. My British mother had been a high level banking employee in London, but after she married my father, and while her children were young, she was mostly at home. This was a chance to have her own money for birthdays, and for vacations. During the summers when school was out, from the time when I was about nine, I went with her, as our friends had said I could swim in their pool.
My mother had been actually an excellent choice to manage their home in their absence. Just as she was with her own home, she was detail oriented. She noticed everything, and maintained whatever she could as if a realtor were coming tomorrow. While my mother ran the vacuum, and dusted, I played the grand piano in the living room, and then changed to use the kidney shaped pool. Even now, I remember the house as if I visited yesterday. It also had the most remarkable guest house, which my mother also occasionally needed to enter and to maintain.
The main house had been a stone barn that had been converted to a residence, and rested on a large, mostly wooded acreage. The entrance we used most often, opened to a kitchen to the left, and on the right, to a dining area. To the far right, there was also a door which opened to slate steps that reached to a slate and iron terrace, which overlooked the kidney shaped swimming pool. In the summers, there were red geraniums in cast iron containers, outside the house and on the terrace. From the inside, beyond the kitchen, there were several steps which led to a cathedral ceilinged living room. There was an exceptional black grand piano, a comfortable leather couch, some coffee tables and art and ceramics on shelves. There was also a fireplace that I don't think they used very often. They had magazine racks with some of the nicest magazines I had seen on design, things to do in New York, etc. The living room had the widest plank wood floors I believe I have seen anywhere. This was the first house I had seen that had been decorated in an eclectic yet expensive fashion. The owners traveled the world as part of the husband's job, and brought interesting objects home from foreign countries, and then placed them somewhere in their country home. To the right of the living room, there were stairs which led to the basement and to the laundry area. There were also stairs which led up to a landing and more stairs to a bathroom, a master suite and two more bedrooms. The guest house also had several bedrooms, and a bathroom, though as I child I thought it strange that it did not have a kitchen also.
My parents house was being restored and was very much in keeping with what I later learned was consistent with the English country style. However, our friends with the barn style house, kept the house itself consistent with a stone and wooden structure from the 1770s, with some antiques, but they also incorporated quality furnishings and design pieces that were contemporary. I don't know how they did it, but it amounted to what I will call timeless eclectic. Every piece was beautiful, interesting, and belonged where they chose to put it. They also tended to buy the most expensive kitchen appliances. It was the first time I ever saw a Bosch dishwasher. Somehow, their house was always comfortable, yet not fussy.
Eventually, as I grew, the time came for the husband to retire. They would keep their apartment in Manhattan, but they would spend much more time at their barn home nearby. I was finally able to meet some of their family, including their grandson, who was about my age. They also built a small pool house by the pool. My mother was no longer needed to care for their home, which by then, was a relief to her, as she wished to spend several months in England visiting family. We still saw the friends who owned the barn house quite often, especially since they bought a beautiful German Shepherd who often came to visit with us, as soon as they made even a day trip to New York. They also cleaned out their house a couple of times, and asked if there was anything we wanted. I wanted it all ! Items from their house didn't just remind me of them, but of the serenity and eclectic nature of their property. I enjoyed their magazines, some French tiles they parted with, and some other small items.
As I grew up and went to college early, my father once again took a job where he now traveled around the world. My mother was more available, and spent more time with her friends who had the barn home.
After college, I left the state, married and bought my first home. I had children, and was focused on my own life and tasks. I know that my parents continued to be close friends with the family who had the barn house. Eventually, one and then the other of them died. I was glad that I had kept the small items from their home that they had given us. I remembered them both fondly.
As many families did in the years which followed, we tended to buy a home, do some improvements, and then sell about every four years as our family grew. Although I favored colonials, I still found a way to incorporate the items given to us by the family with the barn home. The last two homes we have owned have also been on large acreage, and have been homes we built as farm houses.
Some time ago, I decided to look up the address of the barn house where I had so many happy memories, of both the home, the dog, the pool and of course, the dear people who had lived there. The house is no longer there as I remember it. After their passing, it sold to a couple who changed it from the estate it was, to the estate it is now, closer to their own vision. The estate that was worth about a million when I was a teen, is assessed for several million dollars now. Sadly, from internet pictures taken the last time it sold, the house I remember exists now, only in my memory. I had not understood how much this special place had meant to me, and I am sad that it doesn't exist, as in my recollection.
I suppose elements of it exist in some ways in my own life. I have similar entrance gates to my farm, as the barn house did. My home rests on large acreage with a cleared area around the house, but with many trees. An ash tray, some tiles from France, and some art pieces from France, all given to us by barn house owners, still rest on shelves in my dining room and living room. The decor of our home was always important to me and as a result I think, two of my five children hold art degrees, and as an offshoot, are exceptional interior designers in their own homes. In summer, the front porch of my farm house has deep red geraniums, for the fragrance, as much as for the appearance. A Thermador stove with a griddle sits in my kitchen. I have to laugh when I realize that like the barn home owners, I too own a second home I don't get to as often as I would like. I have a person who looks after it as carefully as my mother did their home, and I get smart phone pictures of it periodically so that I can see all is well, and when something is changed or maintained.
I probably don't need to remind you that some of the people, the places and even the homes your children see will shape their choices, their dreams, and their futures, possibly all their lives, just as the barn house has, all of mine.